NHL: Few Shed Tears as Colin Campbell Steps Down as League Disciplinarian

Mary Ann ReitanoContributor IIIJune 2, 2011

Sheriff Colin Campbell and NHL Mayor Gary Bettman
Sheriff Colin Campbell and NHL Mayor Gary BettmanBruce Bennett/Getty Images


On Wednesday, TSN purportedly “broke” the story that NHL Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell would be stepping down as the league’s decision maker when dealing with supplemental discipline of players and coaches.

It is quite possible the PR savvy NHL thought that just hours before the puck drop of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals would be a more appropriate time to make the announcement, to assure that it would be overshadowed by the Finals in the news cycle.

Campbell, who has been in this post since 1998, has had somewhat of a tumultuous 2010-11 season. Known by many as “The Sheriff” of the NHL, Campbell has spent much of the season fighting off one gunslinger after another in a feeble attempt to protect himself from accusations of being somewhat of a corrupt lawman.

His critics had more than just a handful of gun fights to grade him on and in most cases, it appeared that Campbell simply forgot to bring his gun.

Both his lack of professionalism and accusations of nepotism, along with his lack of supplemental discipline on several egregious plays, particularly those involving head shots, were what lead to the decision of finding a new sheriff. Some town folk go so far as to believe that Mayor Bettman might have even asked him to turn in his gun and badge.

In mid-November, Campbell first found himself under fire when, as part of the wrong dismissal case of NHL referee Dean Warren, emails sent by Campbell were submitted as evidence in which he referred to Boston Bruins center Marc Savard as a “little fake artist” after Warren had penalized Campbell’s son, Gregory—then with the Florida Panthers—for a high-stick minor.    

Several other emails surfaced with highly questionable verbiage, putting the league in some very compromising positions due to Campbell’s child-like temper tantrums. Many, myself included, have strongly disagreed with Campbell’s position of authority in the NHL, considering it the textbook definition of a conflict of interest.

With his son playing in the league, Campbell has found himself accused of nepotism, a hard case to disprove when the aforementioned emails confirm that belief.

Campbell’s only defense of the email scandal was that he had no idea emails from five years ago were still kept and that they could be used against him in such a fashion. Once that gun fight was over, Colin Campbell found himself in an almost never-ending barrage of concussion based/headshot hits; with the overwhelming majority of them receiving no supplemental discipline from the league or a mere one-game suspension. 

Three very high profile hits were Philadelphia’s Mike Richards on Buffalo’s Tim Connolly, here; Vancouver’s Raffi Torres on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook, here and certainly, Boston’s Zdeno Chara on Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, here.

In each of these hits, either a two minute minor or a five minute major was issued, and the league, per Campbell, handed out no additional disciplinary action.

The outcry from the Chara-Pacioretty decision was so loud that the following week, during the NHL’s General Managers’ meeting, Commissioner Gary Bettman had to make a statement in support of the decision to protect Campbell and quite possibly the integrity for the league.

This may well have been where Bettman began to see Campbell’s sheriffing style as a liability because he remained relatively quiet in the final months of the season in this regard.

Chicago fans were almost as irate as Montreal fans when the announcement was made that Torres, who had just returned from suspension for a very similar infraction, would receive no additional punishment from the league.

This decision on Campbell’s part may well have left him with no more bullets in the chambers and a mayor who was most likely already looking for a replacement. 

The press finally had Campbell in their crosshairs when he made this comment in defense of the Torres decision: “Especially at this time of year when there’s so much at play here with the playoffs and cities are involved. When you rule on certain situations, all of a sudden you become public enemy No. 1 so … Am I pissed off right now? Yeah, I’m pissed off.” 

It appears that the new NHL sheriff will be Brendan Shanahan, who is presently serving on the business side of league operations. As far as presentation goes, Shanahan is the antithesis of Campbell and will hopefully bring some much needed credibility to the post that Campbell has seemed to begrudgingly hold down in recent years.  

Shanahan has the poise and personal presentation that this often thankless post requires.  Campbell had an '80s like mentality to his position and quickly became defensive when his decisions were questioned.

He was in charge, he made an executive decision and to hell with anyone who wanted an explanation.

Hopefully, the new sheriff will learn from Colin Campbell’s mistakes and this might be the opportune time to begin to look at what many in the league have felt is long overdue—a panel of three to five people who collectively decide on supplementals instead of it falling into the lap of one person. 

Only time will tell.